Maze Training Blog

Workplace Harassment: Nearer The Top Than You Might Expect

Posted by Nicola Fowler on Nov 11, 2019 12:33:58 PM

Workplace Harassment - Nearer The Top Than You Might Expect

The British Medical Association is allegedly a hotbed of sexism and general diminishment of women but in the wake of #MeToo, were we really that surprised by this news?

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The only thing that we were surprised about here at Maze is how many people are still sceptical of harassment reports coming out of the most “professional” workplaces. The problem is, in order to confront inappropriate behaviour, you have to confront the person. We talk a lot about being an upstander, but what if the person in the wrong is nearer the top than we’re comfortable with?

If you’ve read the eye-opening Independent article on the subject, you’ll know that the claims include female employees with university degrees being told to make the tea, male employees openly trying to guess their female colleagues’ bra size, and a brazen culture of addressing women with “demeaning terms, such as ‘girls’”. And these claims are only the opening of an outrageous and yet, entirely weary, report.

So, why is this only coming to light now?

Well, if we have learned anything from the ever-unfolding #MeToo movement, it’s that many toxic workplaces and people inside those workplaces are considered “untouchable”.

Many women recount incidents of reporting their superiors for harassment only to find their own jobs suddenly on the line.

In films and on TV, female characters report their harassers and see themselves vindicated; real life is far less simple. Workplaces with “esteem” surrounding them may contribute to pressure to remain silent, a feeling of ‘I can’t speak up, this place is too important/special/etc.’

You don’t make trouble, they’ll say – either put up with it or find another job.

Many people subjected to workplace harassment, in any and all forms, find their turmoil overridden by other feelings such as how “lucky” they are to even be in such a “good” workplace. They might even feel that they’re imagining what is happening; after all, this is the Super Amazing Highly Prestigious Workplace Of The Century – this can’t be happening here. Surely?

They might wonder, by extension, if it is really happening, why it’s happening to them. They must have done something to cause it, so they’d better change their own behaviour and see if that helps, instead.

And beyond that? If you’re a young woman just starting out in the working world, feeling overwhelmed by some combination of awe, gratitude and excitement to have “made it” to one of those big, famous companies… how on earth do you stand up and take on a corporation so big?

At Maze, we believe it’s a question of engaging your people with your organisation’s policies and procedures, how they are interpreted and how they are implemented - it is not good enough to just say that you have them; it’s how comfortable people are to take action knowing that the process is there to support them. If inappropriate behaviour has been allowed to slide for long enough, it could have become normalised, blinding even the most well-intentioned workers to what they are truly seeing. As more and more people observe but stay silent, the Bystander Effect kicks in and the behaviour continues undeterred.

We already know what constitutes harassment; but those who harass continue in the knowledge that they can.

The answer is to have the policies and procedures; but the difference is that they are actually used and have clear consequences for those who break them. Your staff don’t need to ask ‘well, what counts as harassment?’ They know, as they are engaged and understand the procedures that are there to protect.

The problem falls on both sides, however. The victim is not at fault but needs to be gifted the power and voice to speak up, through confidence-building exercises and reminders that they are important, and they matter, too. They need to feel that they have protections on their side.

Most of all, they need to feel that no one is too powerful to behave properly in the workplace.

Maze Training can help you weed out toxic workplace behaviour. Call us today to find out what we can offer you.

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Topics: Workplace Harassment

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